For a Jew of Jesus’ time, the temple was everything: it was the economic, political, social, and religious center of the whole nation of Israel. And that he went into that sacred place and turned it upside down, and foretells its destruction must have shocked, chilled, and confused both the religious leaders and other Jewish people alike.
The Temple was the place where sacrifice was offered as an act of worship to almighty God. Pilgrims coming from outside of Jerusalem could not bring animals from their homes because the animals had to be without blemish, and they would likely get bruised or hurt on the arduous journey to Jerusalem. For a long time, these sacrificial animals would be purchased in markets away from the temple, but over time, the selling of sacrificial animals crept inside the Temple walls. Money changers would charge a fee for changing foreign coin into the coin of the Temple. It was convenient, but convenient does not always mean holy. The temple, instead of being a house of prayer—a place of reverence filled with psalms of praise and teaching of God’s word, became a congested, noisy center of commercial activity and corruption.
The Gospel today refers to the temple of our body, and Saint Paul refers to the body of a Christian in right relationship with God as a “Temple of the Holy Spirit”. Your body, your heart, your self is meant to be a temple, a holy place where God dwells and where prayer to God is central.
What goes wrong with the temples of our bodies is the same thing that went wrong with the Temple in Jerusalem. What is meant to be a house of prayer becomes a den of thieves, extortion, and corruption. The evils of the world tend to creep in when we are not vigilant.
If Jesus Christ is not at the center of our hearts, then something else is. Just as he did in the temple, Jesus wants to make our hearts houses of prayer where his Father is honored above all else, he wants to drive sin out of our hearts and remove everything that stands as an obstacle to him. He wants to take up residence in our hearts to such an extent that we glorify God in everything we do, as we go about the many demands of day-to-day living.